The Million Dollar Theatre was built by theater impresario Sid Grauman and opened on February 1, 1918 with the premiere of William S. Hart’s film The Silent Man. At the time of its opening, it was one of the largest movie theaters in the country with 2,345 seats. The Million Dollar is one of the oldest theaters still operating in the Broadway Theater District. It is located on the southwest corner of 3rd St. and Broadway in the Historic Core of Downtown Los Angeles, adjacent to Grand Central Market and across the street from the landmark Bradbury Building.
Work on the theater began in 1917, with architect Albert C. Martin, Sr. designing the building in a Spanish Baroque Revival style. William L. Woollett designed the interior of the theater, and Jo Mora completed the elaborate sculpture work on the exterior archway, now partially covered by the marquee sign.
In its early years, the theater operated as a movie palace and vaudeville theater. Metropolitan Theatres took over management in 1945, bringing in famous jazz acts such as Billie Holiday and Cab Calloway to revitalize the theater following the Great Depression. By 1950, Frank Fouce, Sr. began managing the theater, introducing Mexican film stars and performers. His son, Frank L. Fouce, followed suit and eventually went on to own the theater, making the Million Dollar the destination for Spanish-language entertainment in Los Angeles.
For many years, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California was headquartered in the office building, just above the theater. However, the building now houses apartments instead of offices. The theater was home to a Spanish-speaking church up until 2006. In recent years the theater has been used by organizations such as Cinespia, Street Food Cinema, and Last Remaining Seats for classic film screenings.
Sidney Grauman (1879 – 1950) was an entrepreneur, showman, and the visionary behind the Million Dollar Theatre. He also built one of the most recognizable Hollywood landmarks – the Chinese Theatre. Born into a family of theater performers, Grauman was accustomed to a life in show business. The Grauman family moved from Indiana to San Francisco and established themselves as vaudeville impresarios, operating numerous theaters.
By 1917, Grauman had moved to Los Angeles and had begun work on the Million Dollar, the first of his movie palaces in Los Angeles. At the time, it was one of the largest movie theaters in the country, boasting 2,345 seats. He went on to build the Metropolitan Theatre, also in Downtown LA, and the landmark Chinese and Egyptian Theatres in Hollywood.
He passed away in 1950 but is still remembered as one of the most significant people in Hollywood’s history, receiving both an Honorary Academy Award and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
ALBERT C. MARTIN
Albert C. Martin (1879-1960) was the architect behind the Million Dollar Theatre. Patriarch of one of the oldest and most prolific architecture firms in Southern California, Albert C. Martin saw opportunity in the open fields of a fledgling city. In 1904, 25-year-old Albert C. Martin arrived in Los Angeles from La Salle, Illinois. He had a degree in architectural engineering from the University of Illinois, a few years of construction experience, and fifteen dollars in his pocket.
By 1906, he had received his first big assignment: head of construction on the massive Hamburger Department Store, designed by Alfred Rosenheim. By 1908, Martin had established his own architectural and engineering practice.
Martin’s first major commission was the Million Dollar Theatre building (1918) at Broadway and Third Street. The office building’s ground floor housed the Million Dollar Theatre, Sid Grauman’s first Los Angeles venue. For the theatre auditorium, Martin designed the world’s first cantilevered balcony made out of reinforced concrete.
The boom of the twenties brought A C. Martin dozens of church, office, and municipal building commissions. Highlights include St. Vincent de Paul Roman Catholic Church (University Park, 1926), Santa Monica’s Catholic Church (Santa Monica, 1926), and Los Angeles City Hall (Civic Center, 1928, designed along with John Parkinson and John C. Austin). At the time, 100 people were on the firm’s payroll.
Martin’s firm survived the Great Depression in part because of the rebuilding effort after the 1933 Long Beach Earthquake. This not only guaranteed work for A.C. Martin, it cemented it as one of the leading firms with expertise in seismic design. Martin’s achievements included development of a system of reinforced concrete construction in 1907 and development of a method of reinforced brick masonry in 1933 to help safeguard the city’s buildings against earthquakes.
In the latter half of the 1930s, the private sector started to reemerge from the freefall of the Depression and set its eyes on expansion. In 1938, A.C. Martin was selected by the May Company to design a new flagship department store on the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue, in the then-nascent Miracle Mile. Martin, along with Samuel Marx of Chicago, designed what would become one of the finest examples of Streamline Moderne architecture in Los Angeles.
In all, Martin and his associates designed over 1,000 buildings and helped to shape the Los Angeles skyline as we know it. In 1959, the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce recognized Martin for his contributions to the development of Los Angeles by presenting him with its annual “Man of Achievement” award. Albert C. Martin died at age 81 in Los Angeles. The firm he founded, now known as A.C. Martin Partners, remains one of the city’s leading architectural firms.
WILLIAM L. WOOLLETT
William Lee Woollett (1872 – 1953) was an American architect and muralist. He was the architect for the Million Dollar Theatre’s auditorium. Born in Albany, New York, Woollett is the son of architect William M. Woollett. He received a degree in architecture from MIT and came to California after the 1906 earthquake. His most known work includes the Million Dollar and Metropolitan Theatres, State Armories in San Francisco, as well as schools, office buildings, theaters, and houses in Los Angeles. He was a well-known architect in Southern California and often painted murals on his buildings. Woollett’s son, William Woollett, and grandson Joseph L. Wollett were also architects.
Joseph Jacinto Mora (1876 – 1947) was a Uruguayan-born American sculptor, muralist, illustrator, and mapmaker. He is the son of sculptor Domingo Mora, who was known for his work on the Metropolitan Opera house in New York and the Palace Theater in Los Angeles. Mora spent the early part of his career living with the Hopi and Navajo tribes in Arizona, learning their native language and customs and recording the details of their lives in drawings and photographs. He returned to California in 1907 and continued to work as an illustrator, sculptor, and cartoonist.
In 1917, he designed the facade of the Million Dollar Theatre. The ornate sculpture is done in a Churrigueresque style and features numerous statues, longhorn skulls, and other unique elements. Not long after, he moved to Carmel by the Sea and began work on what many consider his greatest masterpiece – the bronze and travertine memorial in the Memorial Chapel in El Camelo Mission. He passed away in 1947, but his last book, Californios, which he dedicated to the lives of the rancheros in California, was published posthumously and received much acclaim.
FRANK L. FOUCE
Frank Louis Fouce (1927 – 2013) was a film producer and patron of Spanish-language entertainment. He was the son of theater and vaudeville impresario Frank Fouce, Sr. Fouce played a major role in promoting Spanish-language entertainment throughout his career. He cofounded the Spanish International Communications Corp., which operated the first Spanish-language television channels and went on to help launch the network that would become Univision.
In the 1950s his father leased the Million Dollar Theatre to show Spanish films, but he passed away in 1962, leaving Fouce Jr. to take over Fouce Amusement Enterprises. In 1969, Fouce bought the Million Dollar Theatre. He began bringing in famous Mexican entertainers to perform at the theater, attracting the Spanish speaking audience that Hollywood and other mainstream media had largely ignored. In doing so, he established the Million Dollar as a hub for Latino and Hispanic culture and entertainment. Numerous Mexican motion pictures premiered at the theater, and regular live performances by Hispanic singers and dancers were held.
After an impressive career as an entrepreneur and producer, the theater impresario passed away in 2013 from lymphoma at the age of 85.
María de los Ángeles Félix Güereña (1914 – 2002) was a Mexican actress and singer who is considered one of the most important female figures of the Golden Age of Mexican cinema. She is perhaps most recognizable for her role in the 1943 film Doña Bárbara. By the time Felix performed at the Million Dollar Theatre in the 1950s she was already well-known in Mexican cinema and was one of the most glamorous Mexican performers to grace the theater’s stage.
Although she performed at the Million Dollar Theatre in Los Angeles, she did not star in Hollywood films, instead focusing on projects in Europe and Latin America. Over the course of her career she starred in 47 films made in various countries including Spain, Mexico, and Argentina.
Billie Holiday (1915 – 1959), born Eleanora Fagan, was an American singer and songwriter. After moving to New York with her mother, she began singing in Harlem jazz clubs. She came up with her stage name, Billie Holiday, after film star Billie Dove. She was discovered at a jazz club by producer John Hammond, who helped launch her recording career. In 1939 she recorder one of her most well-known songs – “Strange Fruit,” about the lynching of African Americans.
She also performed at numerous venues throughout her career, including the Million Dollar Theatre. Holiday lost her battle with addiction and passed away at the young age of 44. Today she is still recognized as one of the greatest jazz vocalists of all time.
NAT KING COLE TRIO
The Nat King Cole Trio was a group of jazz musicians comprised of Nat King Cole on piano, Oscar Moore on guitar, and Wesley Prince on double bass. The trio played in Los Angeles throughout the late 1930s, including at the Million Dollar Theatre, and recorded many radio transcriptions. Many jazz ensembles that followed modeled themselves after the trio.
In 1939, the Cole Trio was receiving enough attention to embark on its first tour of the East Coast and the Midwest – in New York, Cole, Moore and Prince backed singer Billie Holiday on one of her Manhattan gigs. In 1940, the Cole Trio made its first commercially available recording of Sweet Lorraine, which featured Cole on lead vocals and became the group’s first hit as well as the group’s theme on radio.
Cole slowly began working on his own music separate from the trio in the 1940s and went on to become one of the most well-known jazz musicians of all time.